Carl Reiner’s Privilege

It is refreshing to read the obituaries for 98-year-old Carl Reiner. Not only does the Hollywood figure leave behind seemingly genuinely mourning family and friends, but the words describing the entertainer’s life do not include the following: COVID-19, Biden/Trump, sexist, racist or privilege. It is the omission of the last word that I would like to discuss.

Had I been asked to define the word privilege a few years ago, I would probably have replied ‘honor,’ as in the sentence, “It is a privilege to meet you.” Similarly, I would have thought of a student being told that she has the privilege of representing her school at an event. In both cases, the privileged individual feels humility at an honor bestowed on her, whether or not the opportunity was random or hard-earned.

Times change and words change with them. The word privilege is now supposed to denote an undeserved, unjust and unacceptable advantage for which one needs to apologize or preferably grovel. There is male privilege, white privilege, and rich privilege. More categories exist and even more will surely be added. The ones listed above could all be applied to the life of Carl Reiner.

Let’s look at the privilege that Carl Reiner had. In 1922, Mr. Reiner was born in New York to Jewish immigrant parents. He had the privilege of growing up in a free country that wasn’t about to turn into a Nazi tyranny that would have automatically slated him for death. He had the privilege of having parents who, if they were at all similar to the immigrant parents of that generation that I knew, were hard-working, felt a deep gratitude to America and prioritized and treasured education for their children. He had the privilege of growing up poor in a country that allowed its citizens to work their way up the ladder.

Carl Reiner had the privilege of capitalism. He started working full-time at the age of 16 when, as a young high school graduate (whose education would probably run circles around today’s Liberal Arts Ph.D.s. ), no one suggested that college was a right to be demanded regardless of whether or not his parents could afford to send him. He had the privilege of living in a country where millionaire politicians did not insist on a minimum wage that would have led the company that hired him as a shipping clerk to reject a young, inexperienced worker who could not yet provide enough value to earn a higher salary.

Mr. Reiner had the privilege to benefit from a free, WPA government-sponsored acting class and he was then privileged to serve his country during World War II.  After the war, Mr. Reiner had the privilege of resiliency. When, due to worries that he was “too Jewish,” he was rejected for the starring part that he wrote for himself and that was based on his life in what became the popular The Dick van Dyke Show, he did not don the mantle of victimhood and cry “anti-Semitism” but instead played a smaller role in the series he produced and for which he wrote.

So much privilege. It went hand-in-hand with hard work, marriage and family, being a good friend and, by all accounts, rejoicing in life.

My daughter, Rebecca, recently wrote in her ‘Your Mother’s Guidance’ column of my own Great-aunt Charlotte, who, like Mr. Reiner, lived a long life. Even when she no longer recognized those around her, Aunt Charlotte remained steadfastly pleasant and grateful. Was she privileged? Privileged to have a mother die giving birth to her, to have her only brother taken overseas at that time by their grandparents, to be sent at age eleven from Europe when her father died to join this unknown brother in America, tearing her away from the step-mother who had loved and raised her? Was she privileged to come at that awkward age to a country whose language she did not speak? She was certainly privileged that no one pitied her and excused her from learning English so that I knew her as a highly articulate and learned woman able to fully participate in American society.

There were many tragic events in Aunt Charlotte’s life that could have led her to bitterness and anger. Yet she and Carl Reiner shared a truly great privilege. They were raised to believe that not everything was going to go their way, but that their response to life’s events was something that they could control. They were not raised to envy those who had what they did not, but rather to be grateful for what they did have.

If you are alive and breathing you are privileged. Every single individual has inborn advantages and disadvantages and others that emerge during his or her lifetime. We could probably list thousands of categories and futilely try to provide an accounting (maybe a scale from 1 – 5?) for each individual in each category. Successful people will not spend their time on such nonsense. I have met recent immigrants along with other people in all their wondrous variations including color, health and economic situations. Those who are successful, like my Aunt Charlotte, take all opportunities to be grateful for their own blessings and work to increase those. That is a privilege, indeed.

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58 thoughts on “Carl Reiner’s Privilege”

  1. Anthony Nzekwu

    Susan, my reference to George Floyd was an observation that the insistence of many white people (not all) that addressing the injustice of the system against people of colour somehow threatens the liberties enjoyed by those that can pass as white – or that seeking to address unjust treatment under the unfair interpretation of the legal system endows one with a victim mentality and jealousy of others. The main role of the police in the South was ‘slave patrol’ to deter and capture runaway slaves. And the main role of the policy is to protect the interests of the ruling class and property. The brutality of the police is mainly due to excess power which is exercised on those deemed to be unable to defend themselves. It just so happens that because black men and boys are disproportionately viewed to be in that group that we witness such lack of disrespect and brutality towards them. Power corrupts so it is not surprising that those people who are not the focus of this power and therefore do not experience its misuse are ironically subject to it occasionally, as in the case of the woman you mention. It is in everyone’s interest to recognise and acknowledge the existence of the theory, belief and practice of white supremacy. It’s evil and destructive impact on society means that we must fight it at every level it rears its ugly, demonic head rather than make attempts to excuse or justify it just because individuals have been able to find a way to live with it. Not all Jews died in the concentration camps of Natzi Germany and those that escaped can teach us all a great deal about mental resilience and internal fortitude. Similarly, many slaves after slavery managed to feed themselves and build a life and a united family unit. Are we to justify either experience on the backs of those that survived the experience. Can we not acknowledge that no human being should be put through either experience? Until we understand that injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere I feel very sad for the future of our society and world. All it takes for evil to prosper is for good men and women to turn a blind eye, for whatever reason.

    1. Anthony, there are so many statements you made with which I disagree. Assuming that we both want everyone to have the opportunity to live in a safer and more prosperous society, my biggest concern is that I see your way of thinking as leading in the opposite direction. (I assume you will disagree with that or you wouldn’t be promoting it.) Have you seen this video (We don’t normally post links on our site, but I am using executive privilege.) Anyway, as I said earlier, I do appreciate your willingness to converse.

  2. There are many within the white community who fail to understand that the phrase “white privilege” has nothing to do with economic advantage enjoyed by a member of the white community. Anthony Nzekwu tried to explain it above. It would behoove us all to try to do so rather than being defensive about it as if it denigrates our own hard won successes.

    1. Anthony Nzekwu

      Jonny thank you so much for your comment. I could not have put it better and it so refreshing to hear someone who can identify that someone who cries that they cannot breath is not playing the victim card or trying to rob anyone of the air they breathe.

      1. Anthony, I don’t believe that anyone was arguing that excessive police force (though there can be an argument about what that term means) is wrong. No decent person was defending the policeman who kept his knee on George Floyd’s neck. The disagreement is about what happened after that. For one thing, there was an automatic assumption of racism without even looking to see if the many previous complaints against the officer included people of all races. A few years ago, a white woman was shot point-blank by an officer (white, I believe) who stopped her car. That was police abuse, but because she was white it did not become a national issue.
        If you are going to say that anytime a white officer has a negative interaction with someone who is black, it is automatically racism, then we need two separate police forces with officers only being allowed to respond to complaints by those of the same color. Instead of moving towards a better society, I think we are moving in the other direction. That doesn’t mean that there are no valid complaints. It means that the wrong solutions can make things worse.

  3. Dear Susan,
    Thank you for this column as for all your columns which I read regularly. I am thankful that you speak of the same privilege which I have enjoyed as an 81 year old who pastored Baptist churches for 50 + years. I am thankful for both you and your husband and your support for Christians who are thankful for our common heritage in the Jewish Torah. Truly it forms the foundation for our Christian faith as well as your Jewish faith.
    Allen Hern, Kamloops, British Columbia.

    1. Pastor Hern, as you may know, many of our favorite family memories were created in British Columbia.

  4. This is quite a thought provoking Musing, Mrs. Lapin. You totally changed the thoughts that the word “privilege” triggers in my head. Those thoughts are CONstructive rather than the DEstructive thoughts that today’s common usage inspires.

    Thank you, Mrs. Lapin, for enhancing my quality of life by one little article.

  5. Sophia Davis Smith

    Thank you Susan. Yes, I feel privileged to read your musings and I agree as an immigrant from South Africa to America- I am privileged to have received this opportunity and I am privileged to work hard with my husband to have what we have today. I am privileged to have been brought up in a Christian home to study the Bible and practice what is says. I am privileged to have found you and your husband on and learn from you and all the other preachers on it. I am privileged to go to a bible preaching church every Sunday and to have made amazing friends there. I am privileged most of all to be called a child of God. Thank you for telling people the truth. Keep up and continue musing. Love Sophia

    1. Sophia, so many studies today document what the Bible taught – gratitude leads to happiness. Yet, our GICs and universities and so much of politics and media today is focused on discontent, blame and resentment.

  6. Anthony Nzekwu

    While I can usually see and often agree with your musings, I am so disappointed at your point of view here.
    Your definition of privilege is historically correct, but it is a well-known fact that language is fluid and ever-changing – just read the King James Bible.
    You choose not to understand the meaning of privilege accorded to those that did not have to, among other things, contend with the complete loss of rights under slavery, the complete loss of rights under Jim Crow legislation, the unjust use of Red Lining to deny people of colour education and decent housing, the continued lack of reparations, as rightly accorded the Jews that suffered under Nazist Germany, and to this day the continued assumption of guilt until proven innocent when it comes to people of colour. The idea of the term white privilege is an attempt to codify this obvious and continuing lunacy of judging people according to the colour of their skin. As you nor your ancestors would have suffered this injustice I would not expect you to understand or sympathise but I would have expected an intelligent woman like you to at least understand, if not empathise with the immense and continued injustice heaped on people of colour

    1. Anthony, thank you for taking the time to write. Please help me understand your perspective. You wrote, “The idea of the term white privilege is an attempt to codify this obvious and continuing lunacy of judging people according to the colour of their skin.” In my mind, that is one of things most damaging about the idea of reparations as well as the idea of white privilege. According to that, the only lens through which we can judge people is the color of their skin. Do we start doing DNA tests to see who qualifies? Does the descendant of someone whose great-grandfather died fighting for the North during the Civil War owe money to the great-grandson of a Black slave-trader? Does a recent immigrant from Ghana receive money from the grandson of an Irish, Chinese, etc. immigrant whose ancestors were also discriminated against? Does someone who got into a university because of preferential treatment because of being Black get less than someone else? How exactly does this work? As you well know, “Jew” did not receive reparations from Germany. There were specific individuals who made specific claims to the specific country that stole from and harmed them. That is how reparations to certain Japanese-American individuals happened as well. There are no slaves left alive from the 1800s. This isn’t to say that Jim Crow laws or red-lining didn’t exist. It is to ask how exactly this translates into reality.
      My point is that each and every one of us can choose to look at what we can do to help ourselves, our families and those with whom we identify. There is, of course, no “Black community” as though every individual with a certain skin tint thinks and acts the same way. It is highly offensive to you, I assume, when anyone claims that they know everything about you based only on the color of your skin. However, speaking in generalizations, what do you think of Thomas Sowell and other’s well-researched views that the “Black” community is worse off today than it was in the 1960s? There were certainly terrible things happening in some places, but the Black middle and wealthy classes were growing. Boundaries were coming down. There were healthier families and there was more forward motion on a grand scale.
      Do you think there is anything that the “Black community” can do to help their children do better? Is there any self-recrimination needed? Is looking back with bitterness and focusing on victimhood the best way to make the future brighter? I have personally found that a chip on the shoulder, even one based in reality, crushes the person wearing it.
      I ask these questions with all sincerity.

      1. Anthony Nzekwu

        I am so surprised that your response continues along the lines of choosing to misunderstand what for many is as obvious as the nose on their face or the colour of their skin. while the only lens through which we can judge people is obviously not the colour of their skin, that is precisely the lens through which the white community has chosen to judge black people since slavery right up to the modern-day, which to a large part is what the current demonstrations are about. Black people are not accorded the same human rights and dignity under the law accorded to their white counterparts by the police or legal systems in America.
        There is no doubt in the mind of any right-thinking individual that America would not be the rich, powerful nation it is today had it not been for over two hundred years of FREE labour under slavery and Jim Crow. Ironically are you aware that compensation was paid by the Federal Government following the abolition of slavery – not to slaves or their descendants but to the slave owners? why were the slave owners not told not to have a chip on their shoulders and suck up the fact that the free labour they had enjoyed for many years was to be taken away ( although, off course, as we know it was not) And what about the burning to the ground of Jacksonville, AKA Black Wall Street? Not one penny has been paid the many decent hard-working people of colour that were robbed of everything at the hands of white (yes white) Looters with not even one person being prosecuted for the outrage. American history is Black history, which you while knowledgeable in so many other areas seems to know next to nothing about. With regards to what the Black community can do to help their children, I would say: apart from educating their children to know their true history, including the fact that it did not start in slavery, all they can do is continue to struggle and swim against the tide of being defined through the lens of a racist white society, which while it does not hold all black people back(which is a testimony to the resilient of black people) holds back the vast majority. Just as the injustice heaped on the Jews in Natzi Germany needed the understanding of non-Jews to be addressed; given the disparity of the power base in America today, the Black community on its own finds it very difficult to address the unjust system currently prevailing. The situation is not helped by the two-party state in America that means that even educated well-meaning Republicans are blind to the injustice of the system and are forced to view things through party lines, as you appear to be doing.

        1. I read your response and do find it enlightening to hear where you are coming from, but I disagree with many of your points. I still see that saying we must identify people only by whether they are Black or white and Black means victim while white means racist is a prescription for tearing apart relationships, not building them. I do appreciate your taking the time to write and can only hope that free speech will continue to be a feature of life so that we may disagree yet still converse.

          1. Anthony Nzekwu

            In my haste to respond to your reply, I failed to thank you for being gracious enough to read and publish my views, even though they were in opposition to yours. I now hasten to put that right and to thank you for taking the time to read my response and to give it an airing. Although I am disappointed that you are unable to see and agree with my viewpoint I applaud you for giving it an airing and accept that we will just have to agree to disagree graciously.

          2. I appreciate that, Anthony. One of the things that scares me about today’s culture is the lack of listening to other views.

        2. I know that there are people of all races that mistreat others different from them. That is bad, and good people do not support that. This is not isolated to United States, but to the whole world. Racism exists in all colors and all cultures, regardless of what the media wants you to think.

          There is no true “white community” or “black community” or “Hispanic community”, “Asian community”, “Arab community, “Jewish community”… etc. Is everyone the same? Of course not. Stop and think about it, do other people whose skin is a similar color have your exact same values, attitudes, behavior, morals, financial habits and successes, etc.? No way. The people who talk about “communities” are usually those who want power, notoriety, press coverage, and of course money because they are “helping” the alleged “cause.”

          If a person continues to blame other people for their problems, or perceived problems, or blames a skin color, or this that or the other thing, all in disempowering / victim language, what do you think you’re going to get? If you blame Little Debbie for making delicious snack cakes, and they make you fat, will that revelation make you magically fit, strong, and healthy? Blaming things outside yourself will never fix your situation, because you abdicate responsibility to the “things” that are “keeping you down.”

          You can enslave your own self, holding back the true gifts and skills that God has given you. You can hold back your family, friends, community, workplace, country, you name it. And that impediment can be a curse that lasts several generations. The words you hear, and even more so the words you speak, are a major influence on who you are and will become. Faith comes by hearing, definitely.

          Anyone today who meets the requisite criteria can get a car loan, home loan, tuition assistance, etc., etc. The skin color is irrelevant so long as the requirements are met.

          Words do have powerful meanings. The connotations we feel, and the messages we tell ourselves, make a huge difference. For any who have been mistreated, of course as God’s children we have compassion and seek to show love and support.

          But for those who endlessly live in the past, blame past injustices for current situations, shame other people, put the blinders on and literally hinder their whole reality, how will that make the future better? If you are in your own way, how will you rise above and excel? How will you lift up your family and friends? How will you bring people together and make the world better?

          Acknowledging that a thing has occurred, but then improving yourself as much as possible to “be the change” in the world, is the long-term solution. You can’t change what has happened, but you can make changes in what you do.

          Most of the ‘privilege’ that is alleged by social media and talking heads, ‘justice warriors’, etc. is simple, normal stuff (that used to be normal): it relates to family and personal values, work ethic, education, integrity, getting and keeping a job, getting and staying married, following Godly principles (which were also foundational American values).

          I try to be understanding and treat others with respect and honor, even if our views differ. The skin color is just what God gave you, the heart, spirit, and your actions are the test of whether you are a good and honorable person. Bad people come in all skin colors and locations, what we need is for more people to be good, to lead the way, inspire, motivate, and make the world a better place. God help us love each other and work together better.

          1. Anthony Nzekwu

            Matthew, while your views make perfect sense from a lens that views the world of comprising of individuals, deteriorates to absolute nonsense when you factor in reality. The world is not made up of just individuals but is made up of governments, institutions, organisations, multinationals, etc. So a mind that insists om focusing, as you do on what the individual can do without taking into account the framework in which sh/e does it is one that is woefully misguided and misinformed – hopefully by ignorance and not by personal interest.

        3. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

          Dear Anthony-
          Your letter is both interesting and revealing and it contains many untruths. Here is one: You write, “There is no doubt in the mind of any right-thinking individual that America would not be the rich, powerful nation it is today had it not been for over two hundred years of FREE labour under slavery..”
          This has been argued in a largely discredited book by Edward Baptist. Anthony, if what you say were true, the south practicing slavery, should have been far richer than the north. It wasn’t. If your observation were true, the south would have attracted far more European immigrants because immigrants go to richer areas in the same way that today immigrants come to the US from Africa but very few Americans immigrate to Africa. The south was considerably poorer precisely because slavery is not only immoral but also economically stupid. It is why other slave owning countries like Brazil languished economically until they ended slavery. Don’t rely on me, Anthony; check the historical and economic record. I know that in many circles it is very popular to claim that American wealth was built on the backs of slaves but the truth is otherwise and anyone who still thinks that it was, is demonstrating that he is precisely not a “right-thinking individual”. It never helps one’s case when one admits emotionally powerful but untrue arguments. It goes without saying that individual slave-owners benefited but even they, not as much as their abolitionist brothers to the north. By 1870, freedmen and whites produced as much cotton as the South produced in the slave time of 1860. Let me finish by quoting famous black economist (what a shame that I must include in his title the word ‘black’) Walter Williams: [Many] “make the unchallenged pronouncement that the U.S. became rich on the backs of free black labor. That’s utter nonsense. While some slave owners became rich, slavery doesn’t have a good record of producing wealth. Slavery existed in the southern states and outlawed in most of the northern states. Buying into the argument suggests that the antebellum South was rich and the slave-starved North was poor. The truth is just the opposite. In fact, the poorest states and regions of our country were places where slavery flourished: Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. And the richest states and regions were those where slavery was absent: Pennsylvania, New York and Massachusetts.”
          I hope this helps correct your misimpression,

  7. A very thought provoking essay, Thank-you.
    Interesting changes in meaning – privilege means ‘private law’ and was applied to those who ‘did their own thing’ usually to the removal of freedoms from the poor. I grew up with it meaning as you used it but as you say the meaning more and more seems to only mean either jealousy of someone else’s position or demands for my position to be elevated above anyone else’s – in both cases rights and wrongs of the positions concerned are never evaluated.
    There is a very serious problem here. I have just read on the news that there is a demand to not celebrate “that infamous independence” coming up (tomorrow now) As a Brit I suppose I might be expected to enjoy that idea but in fact it is history that cannot be denied and has contributed to making both countries what they are today. So I wish all of you a great Independence Day

    1. Thankfully, England and America seem to have gotten over our differences from the 1700s and 1800s, John.

  8. I’m an African American from New York. I always thought/knew I was privileged, to be an African American from New York. According to “new voices,” however, this may not be true. Well, it appears wisdom isn’t a factor in the “new voices” but there is PLENTY OF VOLUME…;-)

    1. Eddie, I hope you have friends and family who share your views. It can be lonely to fight against the mainstream, as my husband and I know from our own experiences.

    2. Thank you Susan for a great article. You put the concept of “privilege” into historical context. I was just thinking how an important aspect (maybe THE important aspect) of learning history is to realize that context is the only way to understand people’s actions. Wise people have always said “You have to walk in the other guy’s shoes.” Everything young people have been propagandized about by the left has been decontextualized. I wonder if their minds were fertile for that not only because they weren’t taught history, but also because so many of them are so removed from all the kinds of work that the society actually depends upon. They really seem to have no idea what other people actually do, and don’t understand that each activity is economically important to the society as a whole.

  9. A truly inspiring contribution, Susan. Much food for thought. Norman Bailey

  10. It is my privilege to receive, ponder and digest the precious nuggets of AJW that you guys send out faithfully each week. As regards the pointed deformation and corruption of language to serve a stark political agenda, we have read of such things in Orwell’s 1984. Let us all hope and pray we do not see that bleak future actualized here in America, where the ‘privileged’ 2% lead the remaining 98% around by the nose. For the first time in my long life, I anticipate this Fourth of July with some trepidation, because our most precious national holiday will certainly bring some ugly thugs out of the woodwork. Kudos to the law enforcement who are working overtime now to identify and seek out the hooligans who have destroyed civic and private property and even pieces of our national heritage!

    1. James, I too hope that we can actually celebrate this country on this Fourth of July.

  11. Susan, Wow! Great article .
    I already feel privileged to be able to breathe and read your article.
    Makes me grateful & ‘privileged’ to be alive!

    1. Jeff, we would all be happier if we made a daily list of our privileges – also known as a gratitude journal.

  12. Ruth McCausland

    I feel that my brain has expanded after reading your musings. Thank you for sharing your precious thoughts. Sincerely, a grateful reader.

    1. Ruth, I very much appreciate your taking the time to let me know you read and enjoyed my words.

  13. I learned a valuable liberal precept from a liberal relative:
    Change the language…and you change the culture.
    They are dead serious about it….we must not forget that.


  14. Charles Glen Gobel

    Thank you for this perspective. Words are powerful and when twisted, evil.

    1. Charles, the dangerous trend to stop people from talking and writing by threatening jobs or even mob action is something we have to resist.

    1. Shawn, judging by gun and ammo sales these days, people are expecting to need more than brass knuckles.

  15. One of your best ever, Susan. Truly, I am privileged to be among those who follow you and the Rabbi.

    1. I take that as a great compliment, Laurie. We, too, feel privileged to know you and everyone on the Ziglar team.

  16. Thank you for the incredible story of Aunt Charlotte as well as Mr Reiner.
    “If we are alive we are privileged” is true in many cases. I am taking that line and will give you credit.

    1. Janet, of course, I never had a thought when I was younger to sit down and ask my great-aunt questions about her life. My loss.

  17. As usually extremely honest and eloquent! Thank you Susan! It is a privilege to know you and Rabbi Lapin through your musings and your podcast!
    It is a privilege and an honor! G-d bless you and your big happy family! G-d bless America!

    1. Who would have thought, Luda, that so many in power would want us to see the Fourth of July as a day of infamy.

  18. I would have to say, what a “privilege” to read such a well thought out and honest interpretation of what it means to be “privileged”.

      1. When I was in college, a friend of mine told me that language has an influence on one’s thoughts. I believe he is correct. I also believe the reason certain interests are forcing changes in the meaning of words is to influence our thoughts in order to achieve their political and social goals, not only in discourse today, but even to change the interpretation of documents already written. It is quite a diabolical practice, in my opinion, this artificial deliberate changing of language today.

        1. David, many years ago a woman with many letters after her name told my husband and me that until she entered real life rather than university, she was sure that the Constitution’s phrase, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” meant that there should be no respect for religion. An easy mistake to make if you have been to college.

    1. I should have said gender-identity. There are endless possibilities being promoted.

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